HIV-POSITIVE IN LOS ANGELES

 

 

Ray and Dena met after he had already been diagnosed with AIDS. She is HIV negative, and the two are happily married. "Some say it just won't work," Dena said. "I said, we're just gonna prove you wrong.' We've been married four years."

 

Ray had been training to become a professional wrestler before he was diagnosed with AIDS. He now loves to watch wrestling on television, especially Batista, his favorite wrestler.

After receiving some infected blood in the early 80's, Ray was diagnosed with AIDS in 2001.

Ray and his cat Gus, or "Gus-master" have a special bond. Gus has his own seat in the living room, and plays a game of chase with Ray where ironically the cat is the "mouse."

Ray is a very strong man, both mentally and physically. A big source of his confidence in dealing with HIV/AIDS has been his ability to put back on some of the bulk.

Dena, Ray's wife, is HIV negative and a proud activist for people living with HIV/AIDS. Her and Ray took a part a calendar of cats together to decorate her wall.

Ray's belt, drawn on by his wife Dena, says "bad to the bone" in honor of his strength and toughness.

Living in Hollywood, Ray takes the subway to go work out at the gym. Though he has not been able to go recently due to health issues, he looks forward to being able to return.

Even after a long hiatus from the lanes, Ray was still able to bring his "A" game, and beat out the competition.

 

 

Raymond Bowman

Photographer: Elizabeth Schwegler

Journalist: Bobby Gordon

 

It's like I've been in a boxing match.  I've been beat, pulverized.  But I still don't quit.  We pretty much fit into the Rocky Balboa and Adrian category, Dena and I. That's how I think sometimes.

Before I knew what was happening to me I was working out in order to become a professional wrestler. I used to weigh 250 lbs. of bulk. After HIV, I dropped like a brick down to 170 lbs. in a month and a half. It trashed my immune system.  I've had bad neuropathy in both hands because of the virus.  I've also had my prostate and appendix removed, major bladder reconstruction, and a sphincter implant.

I get up at nine on Sundays to watch bowling on ESPN.  My own highest game is a 282. The year the Lakers went back to back, so did I.  But the last time I bowled before today was 2005.  When I had surgery I had to stop bowling - too many health problems.  

In the early 80s I got hit by a car in my left leg while working security.  They told me I was dead for five minutes on the operating table.  It seemed like I could look down and see my body. And the Lord said, "No it's not your time. You gotta go back. You're too young to be up here."

Shortly later I was in the hospital.  Had a bad fever and blood infection in my left leg.  They had probably given me some blood but I was under anesthesia so I didn't know what was going on.

It was 2001 when I was diagnosed with the infection.  I was losing weight fast, 10 lbs. per day.  So I assumed something was seriously wrong.

Three days after getting tested the doctor comes into my hospital room. I'm asleep during the day, taking a nap in my hospital bed and he knocks on the door.  I had the covers raised over my head and I saw him, and he said, "Oh I thought you were dead, Ray, because you only have one T-cell." I said, "No. I'm not dead. I'm too feisty to die that quick."

That night I cried. I laid in my hospital bed and just cried.  I thought I was dead, gonna die.  I asked the Lord, "Send your big angels around me. Guard me. Protect me. Comfort me right now."

The person I was living with lied to the hospital and said he was my brother to get the information of why I was in the hospital. And then later I got put out of his house because he knew I had AIDS.  I could have sued him, but I didn't. I just had to move out.  The discrimination needs to be stopped. People that are living with HIV or AIDS, we need compassion, hope, and to be cared for. We don't need that discrimination stuff.  We got a human body just like anybody else.

I met Dena later and fell in love with her the first day I saw her.  I told her about my status right off the bat. It scared her for a little while.  But I would never want to give my wife the virus.  I would not chance having sex with my wife without proper use of a condom and water based lubricant. I will not do that to her.  Because I love her too much.

Before, Dena's mom wanted her to stop seeing me, but after Wendy Arnold from PEPLA talked to her mom and dad they saw how good I am to their daughter, how much I do love her.  I would never do anything to hurt their daughter. I promised them that when we first got married.  "I would not ever cause your daughter to get what I got, because I love her too much. She's the love of my life." And her mom and dad are my big moral support, they're in my corner now. They treat me like I'm one of their own.

You have some days you're really tired, you don't want to get up.  But you know what helps me, inspires me to get up?  I think about the kids, the young kids that come to PEPLA, these schools, they need to hear my voice.

I'm not scared of when I die. I know I'll be home with the lord. I know I'm gonna be welcome in Jesus' arms and be happy.  My family, it's hard to say. It gets me emotional but my family, I don't want them to cry. I want them to have a rejoicing party because I won't be in pain no more.

 

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